A Learjet registered to religious broadcaster Pat Robertson crashed in Long Island Sound while flying in heavy fog Friday, killing both pilots, authorities said. All three passengers escaped without serious injury.
Robertson was not aboard. “I am deeply grieved and my heart reaches out to the families and to the people on the plane,” he said in a statement.
The twin-engine plane went down a half-mile short of the runway at Groton-New London Airport. Authorities said the passengers were able to get out on their own and were pulled from the water and taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
NBC News reports the three survivors are going through a battery of tests and, pending results, could be released Friday night.
Preliminary information showed that the plane may have hit an approach light mounted in a cove near the airport, said Christopher Cooper, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
The plane was registered to Virginia-based Robertson Asset Management. The company is owned by Robertson and is separate from the Christian Broadcasting Network, spokeswoman Angell Vasko said.
She said Robertson was not on the plane and rents it out because he uses it infrequently.
“We’re still trying to figure out who was on the plane,” she said. “It’s not Dr. Robertson or (anyone) related to CBN or related to Dr. Robertson’s individual businesses.”
The company has a leasing agreement with International Jet Charter of Norfolk, Va., which chartered the plane Friday, Vasko said.
Mark Ousley, International Jet’s sales and marketing director, declined to comment.
The names of the people on the plane were not immediately released, but authorities said the three survivors were men in their 50s.
‘You could barely see past your hand’
The Coast Guard said the plane took off from Norfolk, Va., and stopped in Atlantic City, N.J., to drop off two passengers before heading to Connecticut. State Transportation Department spokesman Chris Cooper said those on board were believed to be headed to a golf tournament at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket.
The bodies of the two victims were pulled from the water by the Coast Guard, Capt. Peter Boynton said.
Police said the cause of the crash was unclear.
Rachel Waszkelewicz said she heard the crash and ran out of her house and onto her dock, but it was too foggy to see, so she called out to a group of lobstermen.
“Everybody jumped in their boats,” she said. “You could hear voices. I don’t know if it was from the plane or if it was boaters yelling to them.”
Dick Sawyer, who lives in the neighborhood, said, “You could barely see past your hand at the time.” Five minutes later, he said, the fog lifted just enough to reveal the jet in the water.
Federal investigators believe fog contributed to a similar crash in the same area in June 2005, when a Cessna 182 crashed into the sound, killing four people.
In August 2003, a Learjet 35 trying to land at the airport crashed into three houses before hitting a bridge. The two people aboard were killed. Investigators blamed the crash on pilot error.